Capital gains are income derived from the sale of property, most typically investment property. While capital gains are not directly an AMT preference item, they do have an impact on a taxpayer’s Alternative Minimum Tax, and, therefore, are an essential element of AMT planning. One real-life scenario with which the writer is familiar involved a retiree with what one would call a typical investment portfolio, including mutual funds, and it was solely a larger-than-usual year-end capital gain distribution from one mutual fund that threw that individual into the AMT.
For a little review, capital gain income historically has been taxed at a rate lower than the rate that applies to other, “ordinary,” income such as salaries and wages and interest income. This lower rate applies only to “long-term” capital gain (LTCG), which means the taxpayer must hold the property for over one year before selling it. Under current law, most dividend income also receives this favorable LTCG treatment.
In general, the tax rates that apply in computing the Alternative Minimum Tax are different from the rates that apply in computing the Regular Tax. However, LTCG is taxed at the same rate for both computations – typically 15%. Thus, a LTCG by itself is not an AMT item. Despite this treatment, however, a LTCG definitely can be a factor that triggers the AMT.
Here’s what happens. First, every taxpayer is entitled to an AMT Exemption amount. This Exemption is designed to prevent taxpayers with only small AMT items from paying the AMT. For example, a couple filing a joint return for 2009 is entitled to an Exemption of $70,950. Unfortunately, however, this Exemption is phased out as the taxpayer’s income increases. The actual phase-out is the loss of $1 of Exemption for every $4 of additional income (i.e., at …